The following update was given to Town Council at the March 17, 2011 Town Council Meeting by Dave Whiting, Acting CEO of the Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission.
Yarmouth to Maine Ferry Service Recruitment Initiative
Issue Briefing Backgrounder
Recently there have been a number of public meetings and myriad public statements referencing the work of the Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission (YAIC), and Yarmouth area elected representatives and administrators to find an operator for a Yarmouth to Maine ferry service. The Wardens of Argyle and Yarmouth County, the Mayor of Yarmouth, their respective staffs and the YAIC are fully and responsibly dedicated to bring an operator into this service. Moreover, they are particularly committed to following a disciplined, professional approach to this recruitment effort. We are leading this effort with no commitment from either senior level of government to an ongoing operating subsidy.
The Canada Marine Act of 1995, which brought the private sector into the Yarmouth-New England service, technically precludes the federal government from direct funding of ferry operations, other than in specific circumstances. And the provincial government has been quite clear that they do not see operating subsidies as part of their mandate. Nevertheless, the YAIC and regional governments are very willing to facilitate discussions with provincial and federal government representatives to determine whether funding would be available for specific purposes relative to a new service if a credible operator presents a viable business plan.
Some progress is being made. Yarmouth, through the YAIC, now has control of terminal facilities. The federal government has facilitated transfer of the Yarmouth ferry terminal to the YAIC, and has undertaken to invest in upgrades to the ferry dock and terminal.
The Terminal is a key component in our effort to re-establish a ferry service. It is critical to all of our discussions as we will not have to refer to third-parties in any negotiations on costs, fees or other charges related to this facility.
The process to recruit a credible ferry operator has not yet met with success. However, we have followed a process that has attracted some interest. We began on August 17th, 2010 with a call for expressions of interest in a Yarmouth to New England passenger and commercial vehicle service. The document was sent to 16 different international operators and individuals with connections to the ferry industry. Four replies were subsequently received and copies of the RFP were sent to those respondents. Of the four, one withdrew due to a lack of apparent government investment. The remaining three operators had experience in the ferry business: two were US based and one based in Europe.
None of these respondents was able to commit to a 2011 starting date. Therefore, we announced in late December 2010 that there would be no service in 2011. Understandably, this led to anxiety and concern from the local population and the immediate announcement of the closure of one of the principal accommodations providers.
The announcement was made to ensure transparency in our deliberations. Nevertheless, we continued discussions with the three parties who had responded to the original RFP and asked them for additional information that would provide greater comfort that they could undertake a 2012 start-up. We asked for specific information and set a precise timeline for receipt of this information. When that deadline was not met we initiated a new RFP process. The new RFP is being issued and will be distributed internationally to ferry operators.
The YAIC continues to maintain that it must remain professionally circumspect with regard to public comment until the full completion of the process. The interests of all respondents have to be respected. That’s why the YAIC has purposefully not made public statements on the quality of the proposals received, asserting that as the responsible author and adjudicator of the RFP, we cannot publicly speak to the details of the responses for reasons of promised confidentiality and the ongoing competitive considerations of the respondents.
In conclusion, we feel that supportive consideration must be given to the fact that there are not many communities in Canada who have so seriously and diligently taken on the establishment of an international transportation route. As challenging as this assignment is, we are committed to following a disciplined, professional approach to this recruitment effort. To do otherwise will not only impede our efforts to attract a legitimate, responsible ferry operator but will bring further damage to the reputation of this region as a place to invest.
Yarmouth may be experiencing a tough period right now as we recover from a number of economic setbacks. We are confident, however, that if our business community, our local civic leadership and our provincial and federal partners all work toward a common goal we will come out of this period stronger than ever.